TAMPA, Fla. — September is National Childhood Awareness month and a Tampa Bay area mother is using the love and loss of her 6-year-old son to help other families who are living through pediatric cancer.
Christen Gray said her son, Finn, lived through more in his six years of life than many adults ever will.
"To know Finn was to know that he was an old soul. I mean he was the kind, he had that yeah, sure attitude," Gray said.
At the age of five, in 2018 Finn was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare cancer that grows in the bones or soft tissues around the bones.
"Our friends, family, neighbors really came out to support our family," Gray said.
She wanted to pay that forward for other families in her situation. Thus was born, Finn's Fighters, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting families both financially and emotionally who have loved ones fighting cancer.
As Finn fought cancer he and his mom worked together to build the foundation.
"I said you're going to inspire people. You're already inspiring people at the time. I said you're inspiring people you know being so brave at 5-years-old," Gray said.
Sadly, Finn's cancer relapsed, and in January of 2020, he died at the age of six.
"I think as a bereaved parent that's the scariest thing is for people to stop talking about your child," Gray said.
Finn's Fighter's isn't only helping families, but for Christen it's cathartic.
"It's definitely a release. It's knowing that his memory is going to live on in a really positive way. It's knowing that he and I had conversations about what is Finn's Fighters is going to look like," Gray said.
In 2020, Finns Fighter's raised close to $50,000 dollars.
That money helps families with medical bills, the cost of therapy, and everything in between.
This year the organization has surpassed that but they're only able to do this thanks to donations and fundraisers.
The Children's Cancer Center in Tampa is another organization that helps families in the world of pediatric cancer.
"We really create an environment for these children and their families where they are living day by day and every moment counts and that's what this is really about," said Patty O'Leary, CEO of Children's Cancer Center.
The organization helps more than a thousand families in the Tampa Bay area with educational, financial, and emotional support.
The center offers an escape oasis for families with games, activities, and fun for the kids to give them a moment to forget about the trials and tribulations that come with cancer.
O'Leary said the space gives them a chance to connect with other families who are living the same reality.
"It really is a need that you don't think about right? You're given a road map for your medical journey but you really aren't given a manual on how you manage you know cold sores in the mouth, or the mood swings when your child is on steroids," O'Leary said. "It's a cliché in our world, but we would like to be put out of business but that's really the truth. It would be a really great day for me tomorrow if I got a call and said hey listen there's no more pediatric cancer, we don't need you."
Until that day comes, O'Leary said she and her staff will continue to support families in need.